The North Carolina Tar Heels advanced to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year Friday by beating the Gonzaga Bulldogs 98-77. In the Elite Eight the Tar Heels draw a very different team than the Bulldogs, the Oklahoma Sooners. While Gonzaga was a balanced team Oklahoma plays much more like North Carolina; efficient offense first and defense as needed. In fact the Oklahoma Sooners have the lowest raw and adjusted defensive efficiencies (points allowed per possession) of any of the remaining eight teams.
The Sooners are as unbalanced across the four factors as they are between offense and defense.
Much like the Bulldogs their main strength lies in making shots as is often the case when a team’s main offensive weapon is a post player like Blake Griffin. Oklahoma also gets to the free throw line frequently and offensively rebounds the ball well, both things expected with a post player like Griffin. Though the Sooners get to the line often they only rank 215th in the nation in free throw percentage, which is mainly the fault of Blake Griffin’s sub-sixty percent free throw shooting.
Defensively the Sooners rely mainly on two of the four factors: field goal percentage and free throw rate. Like many tall teams Oklahoma forces poor shots without fouling, a task often accomplished through shot blocking. Oddly though the Sooners have size, they do not defensively rebound the ball well. However, Oklahoma’s main defensive weakness is turnovers, they rank 302nd in turnover rate. North Carolina’s offense is good enough without allowing them to end every possession with a shot.
The Tar Heels aren’t known for their field goal defense, so the Sooners should be able to make a good portion of their two-point baskets. North Carolina’s biggest advantage will come from Oklahoma’s inability to force turnovers. Both teams should be able to get their share of second chance points from offensive rebounds as neither team is particularly sound defensively rebounding the basketball.
The South regional final should boil down to a couple of simple points. First, can the rest of the Sooners step up and help Blake Griffin? Against Syracuse Tony Crocker chipped in with 28 points on 6 for 11 3-point shooting. More importantly, can the second worst defensive team to make the Sweet Sixteen slow down the Tar Heel offense? The Sooners will need to at least impede North Carolina’s high flying offense to earn a Final Four trip. If the Sooners can do both of these things it will make for a close contest, otherwise the Tar Heels should continue to ride their offense to their own Final Four berth.
Prediction: North Carolina 84, Oklahoma 77